Andrew Whitty looks at fashion trends during economic recession and how it seems to keep going back to the 1990s.
It’s 6pm on a Friday night, you rush home from work excited by the fact that in two hours you’re going to be on that date you’ve been waiting for all week. After a quick shower, (to shave or not to shave?), you open your wardrobe doors to be hit by the fear, the fear that consumes us all – what the hell am I going to wear?
Twenty minutes and five outfit changes later you settle on that shirt, the one you’ve had since 2004, the one that’s seen you through all the good times – New Year’s Eve, Pride 2009, that morning you woke up not knowing where you were. You can’t even remember where you bought it, but it works. During times of uncertainty we often go for the safe option or things we know and trust. This is not just true of fashion. The same can be said for food, airlines, nightclubs, and cars. They give us a sense of security. With the UK economy still in recession I’m eager to find out whether during tough economic times there is a pattern in trends and the way we view fashion, or if we are in fact manipulated by the fashion industry.
The last time the UK faced an economic downturn was in the early Nineties. The glamour and excess of the Eighties were gone and new sense of minimalism was prominent throughout pop culture. The January 1990 cover of Vogue featured five supermodels photographed in black and white wearing simple black vests. A young Kate Moss burst onto the fashion scene, her skinny frame caused much heated debate when compared with the healthier looking models of the eighties. When looking at the advertising campaigns for this coming season there is an absence of colour and excess once again. Versace, who dominated the late eighties with their brocade and flamboyant colours prints have only one model again photographed and dressed in black and white. It’s the same scheme being used at Chanel, Burberry and Dior. So why is there no eye-catching fuchsia, strong reds or deep purples? Colour is a very personal thing, you may love canary yellow, while other consumers may not. When fashion houses are unsure who’s going to be spending money in their stores using this classic style they’re able to appeal to a wider audience and hopefully line their pockets ready for the following season. The consumer feels they are not just purchasing the must-have piece of the season, they are investing in a garment for many years to come.
‘The super-rich always have money!’, I hear you cry. This may be the case but it is not the super-rich who make money for the international labels that fill the glossies. Brands rely on sales of handbags, wallets, scarves, fragrance and underwear to fund their higher end products. We can see a surge in the advertising of these products during times of economic downfall. Who can forget the iconic images of Mark Whalberg (AKA Marky Mark) in his tight, white Calvin Klein briefs that defined the simplicity of the early 1990s? Fast forward twenty years and we’re here again. Mark may be running around Hollywood with CGI teddy bears now, but luckily a certain Mr Beckham has taken his place as every teenager’s fantasy. Posing seductively in underwear for H&M – again in black and white – David is selling luxury but at much lower price points. The consumer, even though strapped for cash, still wants to feel special and that they are buying into a luxury environment. Who else can sell a luxurious lifestyle like the Beckhams?
However, there is also a flipside to this argument. There are some people out there who will not allow the economy to define how they dress and want the party to continue. There were many things in the Nineties that brought us excitement, colour and brightened our day. Not everything was monochrome. There was the birth of dance music – 2Unlimited had us repeating their hit ‘No No’ 24/7 and there is evidence that the youth of today enjoy a bit of escapism too. You can’t listen to any song coming from America’s RnB elite without it being injected with a David Guetta style rave beat mid chorus. There was Saved by the Bell, with its hyper-coloured credits and Californian, sun-drenched surfer boy Zach. He brightened up our mornings and we longed to escape dreary Blighty for high school and a shake at ‘The Max.’ The design teams at Topman seem to have the same mentality. For their summer 2013 collection press and buyers were treated to a catwalk show filled with psychedelic neon rave prints on board shorts and bomber jackets – another favourite from the decade. Models even carried skate boards! So, it appears there are sartorial options for men wanting to recapture that part of the nineties too.
What is clear is that the luxury fashion industry, despite being the ‘trend-setter’, resorts back to tried and tested measures when faced with adversity. It has adapted very quickly over the past few years to accommodate a different kind of wealth – the wealth of knowledge. Both men and women are more trend aware than ever before. The British high street has upped its game and now we can buy into a lifestyle for a much cheaper price. The fashion houses of New York, London, Paris and Milan have been forced to widen their nets to capture as much attention from consumers rather than targeting one social group. That is why you will find items from £10 to £10,000 and why you will find in the majority of stores a monochrome section somewhere alongside a rainbow of colours and styles. Harrods store motto is: ‘Omnia omnibus ubique’, which means, ‘All things, for all people, everywhere.’ With Vogue’s ‘Fashion’s Night Out’ on 6 September in London, there has never been a better reason to go out and spend what you can on a new treat for the new season. You’re guaranteed to find something. Remember, you’re doing your bit for the economy.
Featured image courtesy of Conde Nast publishing